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Poverty for Comedy

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Dave: I was wondering I could just... steal your jewels?
Poor Boy: We don't have any jewels. We're so poor, we can't afford to pay attention.
Dave: That's very funny little boy, but—
Poor Boy: We're so poor we buy used food.
Dave: Yeah, uh...
Poor Boy: [holding a microphone in a stand-up comedian role] We're so poor, our bologna doesn't have a first name! Hello!? [taps microphone] Has this thing been invented yet? Come on, these are the jokes, people! We're so poor, we can't buy a vowel! So, two guys walk into a barbarian...
Dave the Barbarian, "Rite of Pillage"

Much like child-abuse, sexual harassment, AIDS, world-hunger and boy-bands, poverty is a universal societal ill that can bring out the best in us as much as it appeals to the worst. To be poor means that there is the establishment of a hierarchy that you are at the bottom of. Things that create a good quality of life like health-care and fresh produce are not as available to you than if you were born rich. You are constantly working terrible jobs with non-existent benefits for long hours with little pay and one slip-up can leave you likely to get arrested for the crime of being homeless, and like all other harsh realities, Black Comedy can help us cope with the injustice of it all.

Bankruptcy Barrel is often a prop used with this trope, showing that they are so poor that they lost their shirt in the repo, and they usually subsist on a Dog Food Diet when adequate Poverty Food is too pricey and they have no more shoes to boil.

Contrast Kill the Poor, where poverty is both serious and lethal. See also Dysfunction Junction and Hilariously Abusive Childhood.


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  • Internet service provider Optimum once ran an advertising campaign that touted their lower prices by having a series of customers of other ISPs talk about their expensive providers leaving them comically broke in some way.
    "My internet service left me so poor, I got married just for the rice."

    Anime and Manga 
  • The Disastrous Life of Saiki K. plays Mera's family's Perpetual Poverty for comedy. She's portrayed as a Big Eater who is always eating grass or ice because she can't afford food, and when she comes into money, she loses it right away.
  • In Yo-kai Watch, Manjimutt is typically depicted as being the apex of Butt-Monkey status. The proof of this is when he gets inspirited by Supoor Hero, whose power is to make victims unlucky and poor, but ends up having no effect as Manjimutt is already at the maximum level of poverty. This only serves to make him even more depressed.
  • The Yamada family in Yamada Tarou Monogatari is so poor that it goes from tragic to straight into this trope. The entire plot, aside from people mistaking Tarou to be rich, is revolving around how the family tries to make meet ends. From having a dog as emergency food, to stealing sugar in coffee shops, to snatching toilet papers in school, to seducing classmates for food; it's safe to say that the Yamada is so poor it's hilarious. The kids having a pair of idiotic parents with no common sense does contribute a lot to that poverty.

  • A common variation of "Yo Mama" jokes is "yo mama's so poor..." followed by the rest of the joke.
    "Yo' Mama is so poor, she only gets two channels, up and down."
    • One of the oldest ones, "Yo mamma wears combat boots", is the evolution of an insult from the times when prostitutes/very poor women would sleep with soldiers and take their (state-supplied) boots as payment.
  • The "Four Yorkshiremen" sketch (originally from At Last the 1948 Show, later revived by Monty Python) is a parody of nostalgic conversations about humble beginnings or difficult childhoods. It features four men from Yorkshire who reminisce about their upbringing. As the conversation progresses they try to outdo one another, and their accounts of deprived childhoods become increasingly absurd.
    Eric Idle: Right. I had to get up in the morning at ten o'clock at night, half an hour before I went to bed, [pause for laughter], eat a lump of cold poison, work twenty-nine hours a day down at the mill, and pay the mill owner for permission to come to work, and when we got home, our Dad would kill us, and dance about on our graves singing "Hallelujah".
    Michael Palin: But you try and tell the young people today that... and they won't believe ya'.
  • Louis C.K. has made a number of jokes around how poor one could get.
    Louis C.K.: You ever have negative money? That's depressing, isn't it? You look in your bank account and it says "-$10," that's how much I have now. I have not $10. I don't even have no money, you understand? I haven't got that much.
  • Loretta Lynn and George Burns once had a televised pissing contest about which one of them was poorer growing up.
    Burns: We didn't have any food to put on our plates.
    Lynn: (impressed) Oh, you had plates?
    • Burns ultimately won the duel.
    Lynn: George, we didn't even have indoor plumbing. Now, top that!
    Burns: Indoor plumbing? Why, we didn't need it. I told you we didn't have any food to put on our plates!

    Comic Strips 
  • One of the staples of Li'l Abner. The town of Dogpatch is extremely poor and the inhabitants constantly on the brink of starvation — and it's never taken even remotely seriously. Creator Al Capp grew up poor himself, and took a fair bit of inspiration from his own childhood for the comic, but decided to exaggerate it to ridiculous extremes and play it all for laughs. On a couple of occasions, the characters even commented on this, lamenting that their cartoonist had made it and was now comfortably well off, while they were as poor as ever.
  • Loweezy of Snuffy Smith has a laugh with a neighbor after her house was broken into. The would-be thief, finding nothing to steal, instead left money on the kitchen table.

    Fan Works 
  • Vow of Nudity: Walburt the barbarian's cheerful offhand mention of growing up in a leper colony is played as a punchline.

    Films — Animation 
  • Osmosis Jones: The title character, a white blood cell, talks to Drix, a cold pill, about growing up in "the wrong side of the digestive tract".

  • In Daniel Pinkwater's Borgel, The Old Country is a place of comic poverty, where kids get hit on the head instead of three meals a day (rich kids just get hit on the head instead of lunch), everyone has cardboard boxes instead of furniture, and raw potatoes are the only thing available to eat. Borgel's favorite (and only) childhood toy was a peach pit, which was sold to some rich kids. The entire economy there involves looking for squashed skunks in fields, and selling them.
  • The Broke Diaries by Angela Nissel is series of stories about the author's life as a cash-strapped student, and all the demoralising situations she ended up in, all told with self-deprecating wit and humour.

    Live-Action TV 

  • In the "Weird Al" Yankovic song "When I Was Your Age", Weird Al sings about working in a coal mine 22 hours a day for just half a cent an hour, having to sell his internal organs just to pay the rent, living in a family of 73 in a cardboard box, never getting anything but a bag of rocks for Christmas, and eating a chunk of dirt for dinner every night.

  • In A Very Potter Sequel, Professor Lupin is financially struggling like in the books (as well as an alcoholic), but this is completely Played for Laughs. When they first meet him, they mistake him for a homeless bum, to which he loudly insists the he's not (anymore).

    Video Games 
  • LISA the Painful has Ollie Nickels, a perpetually sweaty and poor man living on Garbage Island who's apparently tried to enter every business imaginable only to fail in all of them. In order to recruit him, you have to pay his massive debt of... two magazines.
  • Team Fortress 2 plays the Soldier's combination of insanity and poverty for comedy, because he's a deranged nutjob with little to no grasp on reality, yet continues to be loudly jingoistic and enthusiastically violent rather than dismal and depressed. This makes it easy to laugh at him for eating expired army-surplus soup out of rusty tin cans and building armor and weapons out of junk he finds in the trash, while also hoarding expired sour cream in a stolen refrigerator. He's just like that.
  • Red Alert 3: Economic failure is something of a theme with the Soviets. Many unit descriptions mention how cheaply-made or improvised they are.
    • The Conscript is the cheapest infantry unit of all the factions, and it's implied their training consists of watching a video and shooting at watermelons. They also get excited at being garrisoned in buildings due to the possibility of there being a television in there.
    • The Soviet Engineer is equipped with a laughably underpowered revolver that can't even kill attack animals.
    With this gun?
    • The Akula subs are manned by unskilled peasant labor. The captain also constantly hears leaks, which may or may not be his imagination.
    • The expansion's new Soviet vehicles are essentially repurposed civilian models (the Mortar Cycle is a messenger bike with a mortar-equipped sidecar, the Grinder is a steamroller retrofitted with spiked wheels piloted by a Psychopathic Manchild) or a Flawed Prototype that got greenlit out of desperation (the Reaper is a clanky Spider Tank that can crush anything it jumps on to become a fixed turret, but the pilot keeps losing parts to damage).
    Aaaaahhhh! I just fixed that!

    Web Animation 
  • The Homestar Runner Old Timey cartoons take place in a vaguely Depression era setting, where all the characters deal with comic levels of poverty, only having things like parsnips and "water soup" to eat. Sickly Sam bears the brunt of it— he's basically a skeleton who says he hasn't eaten for years, and wears a dirty "potate" sack instead of clothes.
  • Yo Mama has an entire playlist of videos based around "yo mama's so poor..." jokes.

    Western Animation 
  • The Amazing World of Gumball stars a family of five living off one unimpressive paycheck, with many jokes about the Wattersons' financial woes: Gumball's sweater came out of a sewage pipe, everything they own is a ridiculous Shoddy Knockoff Product, the list goes on.
    Gumball: We're so broke that we give "you-owe-me's" to charity.
  • In the Dave the Barbarian episode "Rite of Pillage", Dave has to pass a series of tests to prove his barbarian-ness for the honor of himself and his family. One such test is proof that he can pillage villagers, so he is sent to pillage a house, only for the child to tell him that they are so poor that they could not afford to pay attention. He then goes off on a failed stand-up routine.
  • In Futurama, Doctor Zoidberg is completely broke, despite being a doctor. This due to his complete lack of actual medical talent, his employer being incredibly cheap, and Zoidberg's own inability to handle money when he does have some. Luckily for Zoidberg, he's an Extreme Omnivore and is permitted to live in the dumpster next to where he works. Every aspect of this is Played for Laughs.
  • The Simpsons' Perpetual Poverty, when not used as a plot device or ignored entirely, is often Played for Laughs, typically with jokes about their house falling apart at random (the walls being so thin that the family members can punch through them to get to each other's bedrooms) and their budget (at one point Marge claims to feed the family on $12 a week: "I stretch your father's meatloaf with sawdust").
  • In the SpongeBob SquarePants episode "Can You Spare a Dime?", Squidward's attempts to forge his own destiny as an artist (or a football player, or spaceman, or football-playing king in space) don't go as planned. He ends up on the streets begging for change, living out of a cardboard box that gets repossessed after he's unable to pay the rent, and is forced to eat his own paintings to survive because nobody will buy them.